Before I could get down to the serious business of writing this review of the latest masterpiece playing at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, California I needed a moment to enjoy my latest acquisition, the DVD of Moulin Rouge. Not the 2001 version that won two Oscars, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, but rather the 1952 version that also won two Oscars but starred and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
This earlier version focused far more on the life of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec a post-impressionist artist whose work is so highly esteemed that not long ago his La Blanchisseuse sold for over $22 million. This reminded me of my favorite artist ever, Vincent van Gogh who died in his mid-thirties penniless and who’s painting L’Allee des Alyscamps recently sold for over $66 million. Both great artists and both on the edge if not fully in the realm of insanity much like the central character in For Piano and Harpo, which focuses on the life of yet another artistic genius, Oscar Levant who was steeped in dark behavior if not because of his obvious genius certainly concurrent with it.
Oscar Levant was a pianist, composer, author, comedian and actor of high repute. His witticism was both legendary and often biting. He was clearly a man rich in humor but also a man deep in neuroses and hypochondria. Alexander Wolcott once said of Oscar Levant, “There isn’t anything the matter with Levant that a few miracles wouldn’t cure.”
And so this character Oscar Levant is brought brilliantly to life by Emmy award-winning actor Dan Castellaneta who also wrote the play. One happy coincidence I discovered was that Dan Castellaneta also produced a one-man show entitled, Where did Vincent van Gogh? See, I knew there was a connection.
On stage in “For Piano and Harpo” we see Oscar Levant often cracking wise with sharp humor and also often descending into the darkness of severe mental distress that at some point takes him to a mental institution. We see in this character the brilliance and the glory as well as the pain and the suffering, a combination that often seems common place amongst the most brilliant artists almost as if genius and insanity are inseparable.
It is a non-stop roller coaster ride that reaches out from the stage and firmly grabs hold of the audience and never letting go, not even after the final curtain. It is by far one of the most unique and compelling theatrical performances in modern theatre.
Kudos to the entire cast and crew and to the Falcon Theatre for once again delivering at the pinnacle of live theatre. Hmm! Does that mean they are all a little insane as well? Maybe! Go see for yourself.
For Piano and Harpo in playing now through March 5th 2017 at The Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank, California 91505. For reservations and ticketing you may go online here or call: 818-955-8101.
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Take a moment and check out my contribution to the world of art, even only digital photographic art, but hey maybe I am just a wee whacko as well. Look here and browse.
Photos by Sasha A. Venola
Top photo: Jonathan Stark, Dan Castellaneta, Phil Proctor and JD Cullum